FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 11, 2023
Woodland Park School District, Board of Education Sued on Behalf of Educators’ Constitutional Rights
DENVER – The Colorado Education Association (CEA) and the Woodland Park Education Association’s (WPEA) members are united in our collective mission to create the best public schools for our students. Educators must be able to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech as public citizens, in order to advocate for their working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions.
Beginning in February of this year, the Woodland Park School District (WPSD) and the Woodland Park Board of Education (WPBE) adopted policies that chilled educators’ right to speak out as private citizens on matters of public concern, and compelled educator membership in political organizations.
Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the CEA said: “Woodland Park educators work hard every day to ensure that their schools are welcoming places where their students can learn and thrive. And for their efforts they’ve been rewarded by their school district and board with a gag order, with removal of critical services for their students, and with constant disrespect for their professional expertise.”
She continued, “If it seems that Woodland Park has been in the press an inordinate amount of times for such a small town, you can place the blame squarely on the WPSD and WPBE. They are intent on politicizing all aspects of Woodland Park’s public education system, and will stop at nothing to demoralize their public school educators and negatively impact their students’ learning environments.”
Today, the CEA and the WPEA have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, against the school board and district, to rectify some of these wrongs. Specifically, the Complaint requests that the court:
- Remove the KDDA policy that punishes school-based employees if they speak publicly as private citizens about matters of public concern regarding the school district
- Declare that Woodland Park School Districts’ employees have a constitutional right to make statements and social media posts about their employment as private citizens on matters of public concern
- Declare that no employee who makes statements about their employment as private citizens on matters of public concern can be disciplined, terminated or retaliated against
- Declare Policy KDDA as null and void for violating the Colorado Open Meetings law
- Declare that attempting to compel members to join PACE is unconstitutional and an unlawful use of taxpayer money
- Prohibit the School District from forcing school-based educators to be members of PACE
Nate Owen, President of the Woodland Park Education Association, is a High School Math and Science teacher in Woodland Park, and is a named Plaintiff in this lawsuit. Customarily he would speak to members of the press to offer his perspective as to the necessity and importance of this lawsuit. However, due to the previously mentioned KDDA policy, Mr. Owen is unable to publicly comment on the Woodland Park educators’ working conditions due to credible fear of retaliation or termination.
Woodland Park is brimming with talented and motivated educators just like Mr. Owen, who are driven to pursue a career in education to give their students a welcoming and inclusive space in which to learn and thrive. But the school board and district continue to focus their efforts on dividing the community, undermining their schools, and depriving educators of their constitutional rights. As a result, 35% of district-wide staff have left their employment in just the last year.*
No matter their zip code, household income, or ethnicity, all students deserve a welcoming, inclusive, and honest public school. In pursuit of this, and the very best learning conditions for our students and working conditions for our educators, members of the Colorado Education Association and the Woodland Park Education Association will continue to fight for the rights of all students and educators.
*G, Matt. “WPSD Staff Turnover after the ’22-23 School Year.” Support Woodland Park Schools, 29 July 2023, supportwpschools.com/2023/07/wpsd-staff-turnover-after-the-22-23-school-year/.
About the Colorado Education Association
The Colorado Education Association is the voice of 39,000 educators, working together in a strong union to ensure all students get the exceptional public schools they deserve, in every neighborhood across the state. As Colorado’s largest labor union, CEA works collectively with all education stakeholders to ensure Colorado’s standing as an excellent state in which to learn, live, work, and raise a family.